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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dering Mock

Leading With Courage

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

When we think of courageous leaders, we often think of leaders in battle where the threat is physical harm. But, there is another type of leadership courage: taking a stand, making a decision, or calling out organizational injustice. These is not necessarily threats of physical harm, but scary nonetheless. Effective leaders understand the need to summon the strength to confront issues, not avoid them. Here are examples of courageous leadership:

1. Standing up for others When people in an organization are being harassed, bullied or intimidated, courageous leaders intervene. They are highly vocal and visible in promoting a culture of dignity and accepting nothing less from each and every team member.

2. Culling dead wood Courageous leaders understand the importance of removing poor performers, bad actors, toxic employees and others from the team. This is, by far, the greatest gift a leader can give his or her team. Yes, it is time and energy-sapping; but it must be done.

3. Making unpopular decisions There are rarely perfect answers. Even more rare are decisions that please everyone. Courageous leaders understand that endless seeking for perfect answers and procrastinating so as not to displease anyone erode the confidence others have in them and can undermine their personal authority.

4. Advocating for humane corporate policies It takes courage to speak up against policies that are unjust or exploit voiceless or powerless employees. Courageous leaders understand the value of fairness and respect in all corners of organizations and strongly defend them.

These examples are not easy. They require conviction and confidence. They require persistence, time and energy.

It often seems so much easier to "let things alone." But consider the costs of NOT doing them. Accepting less than a culture of dignity for everyone can spawn discontent and divisions. Not culling dead wood has dire consequences on the performance and morale of any group. Procrastinating creates uncertainty and delays moving forward. And failing to speak up against corporate policies that sap the best out of people is an ethical, even moral, failing. Leaders are challenged to take candid stock of the impact of their inaction and indecision and the high price they may be paying as a result.

On the positive side, there are enormous dividends if a leader summons the strength, confidence and conviction to overcome avoidance, procrastination and delay. It builds a culture of dignity, performance, confidence and respect. Beyond that, leadership courage is inspiring and contagious, setting an example and seeping into the norms, and informing the decisions and actions of team members throughout the organization.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. From your experience, what is the price leaders and organizations pay for not leading with courage?

  2. Describe the impact on a team of a leader's unwillingness to deal with poor performers and toxic employees.

  3. Have you experienced a leader who made an unpopular decision and managed it effectively. Describe the situation and what the leader did.

  4. Do you agree that "leadership courage" is contagious? Explain.

  5. What are the implications for leaders? For you?

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